I was saddened to hear of the death of Paul Hemphill. His biography of Hank Williams published in 2005, helped revise the standard view of Hank as a man who was consumed by booze, drugs, and debauchery and nothing else. Hemphill made a sustained effort to bring more balance to the story of Hank Williams, in his book ‘Lovesick Blues, The Life of Hank Williams’.
The biography did not focus on revealing a lot of new sensational stories about Hank, although there are some, instead it focused on creating a new appreciation for Hank Williams’ achievement as an artist, let’s look at the works of Hank Williams as well as the story.
In his acknowledgements, Hemphill gives special thanks to Don Helms, Marty Stuart, and Tom Robinson.
I liked his great love of the song ‘Your CheatinHeart’. He quotes the lines,
You’ll cry and cry,
And try to sleep,
several times. He seems to think the poetic simplicity, directness, and beauty of Williams’ language in this song, rivals the work of other legendary poets in the history of English writing.
Before his beautifully written and I think ground breaking book on Hank, Hemphill who was born in Birmingham, wrote a landmark book on country music in the early 70’s called ‘The Nashville Sound’. This book also treated country music and its stars seriously as artists deserving of respect not ridicule. In ‘Lovesick Blues’ Hemphill explores is southern roots, and recalls first hearing Hank Williams on his father’s long distance trucker radio as a young boy in 1949.
In all Hemphill wrote nine non fiction books,and four works of fiction. He spent his life as a professional writer working as a newspaper columnist in Atlanta and writing for most of the major US magazines.
He was able to bring a wide range of experience, intelligence, artistic knowledge and sensibility, to the Hank Williams story. He made a valuable contribution to the Hank Williams legacy.